Thursday, May 28, 2015

VISUALIZING: for Science and Technology

Computer Model Visualization of Crash-Dummy

Nowadays it is common to use computer models, such as the crash-dummy in the adjacent image, to help us VISUALIZE and better understand complex situations and systems. Prior to the advent of computer models, we had to use mental models in our "mind's eye", along with physical aids such as paper maps and diagrams, modelling clay, and other means.

VISUALIZING Relativity - PowerPoint Show
VISUALIZING Relativity - Excel Spreadsheet
VISUALIZING for Science and Technology - Blog Posting
VISUALIZING Einstein's "Miracle Year" - Blog Posting
VISUALIZING My Insight Into Lorentz Gamma - Blog Posting
VISUALIZING the "Twin Paradox" - Blog Posting

Albert Einstein was a great physicist, with all the requisite mathematical tools. However, he rejected purely mathematical abstraction and resorted to physical analogy for his most basic insights. For example, as part of the thought process that resulted in his theories of Special Relativity (1905) and General Relativity (1915) he imagined himself riding along a beam of light; or as an observer standing along the tracks as a train zipped by at near-light-speed; or as a scientist sealed in a closed box and not able to tell if the box was stationary on the surface of the Earth, subject to gravity, or in deep space, far from massive objects, but subject to acceleration due to being dragged by a rocket at ever-increasing speeds.
VISUALIZING the Solution
Using Math and Graphics

Of course, Einstein and virtually all scientists and technologists use mathematical abstractions to quantify the meaning in our visualization models. We change the initial conditions and run these models to simulate what may or may not happen in different situations.


As personal computers and the Internet have become endemic, manual typewriters, paper maps, physical books, and so much else has been displaced by automated versions. Similarly, computer visualizations and models have displaced older methods - except for that old reliable "mind's eye" which remains as important as ever.

During my career as a Senior System Engineer at IBM and Lockheed-Martin I made extensive use of computer models and visualizations and have continued to do so since retirement.

In particular, I have created visualizations for the Atmospheric "Greenhouse" Effect and Einstein's Special and General Relativity. 


As a Guest Contributor to the World's most popular Climate site, I authored a four-part series on Visualizing the Atmospheric "Greenhouse" Effect that attracted over 65,000 page views and over 2000 comments (see:  Physical Analogy,  Atmospheric Windows Emission Spectra, and Molecules and Photons,) The following graphics are some of the animated visualizations I created for that series.   

Physical Analogy

Model of a Physical Greenhouse
Model of the Atmospheric "Greenhouse"Effect

Modeled Down to Photons and Air Molecules


Perhaps the most well-known equation in the world is E = mc2, recognized by virtually every person. But, what does it really mean?

And, many people know about the so-called "twin paradox", where one twin goes off on long mission at high speeds into space, and comes back younger. But why does this happen and exactly what causes it?

If "everything is relative" why isn't the stay-at-home twin also also younger? So, everything is not relative, and perhaps Einstein's original name for his theories "Invariance" is more apt -for the fact all observers, including those moving at different speeds, measure the same speed for light.

If the traveling twin is younger due to experiencing high speed and acceleration, then it is aging that has slowed down, not time, per se.

Furthermore, what, precisely, is TIME? And how is TIME united with SPACE to form SpaceTime?

When you Google any of this stuff you are quickly buried in equations and tensor mathematics that no one (even an engineer like me) can really understand!

Well, all this bothered me for most of my life until, back in 2012, I decided to answer Alan Alda's Flame Challenge "What is Time?" and produce a short video. In the research process for that project, I think I had a critical insight into TIME, SPACE, and RELATIVITY that may help you VISUALIZE this important scientific theory.

Time - the fourth dimension (2013 Flame Challenge) from Ira V Glickstein on Vimeo.

Since that time, I've continued to delve into Relativity and I've come up with what I think is a unique way to visualize and ... perhaps ... even understand it. The following images are screenshots from an Excel spreadsheet I created to provide myself (and you :^) a "hands-on" experience with the relativistic effects of high speed (kinetic energy) and high acceleration (potential energy), including time dilation, length contraction, and the curvature of SPACE and TIME. It is available free.

Free Excel Spreadsheet for VISUALIZATION of Einstein's Special and General Relativity. 

Image is of the Main Panel where user selects a Star, Planet, or Set Angle Option. In the case illustrated, the SpaceTime angle is set to 30º, where velocity is half the speed of light. This causes clocks to slow down by 13.4%, which corresponds to 49 days per year or 482 seconds per hour. Right side shows Special Relativity Effects due to the Kinetic Energy of moving at half the speed of light in empty Space. Left side shows equivalent General Relativity Effects, where Time "curves" due to the Potential Energy of being "at rest" close to a Black Hole.

Free Excel Spreadsheet for VISUALIZATION of Einstein's Special and General Relativity. 

Image is of the SpaceTime view of the right side of the Main Panel (where the vector sum of TRAVEL + AGING = 1) plus the Minkowski-Like SpaceTime view (where the simple sum of TRAVEL + AGING =1).  

Free Excel Spreadsheet for VISUALIZATION of Einstein's Special and General Relativity. 
Image is of the Minkowski-Like view (described above) compared to a Planck view, where both Space and Time are assumed to be discrete, and Each tiny cell is 1 Planck Time (tby 1 Planck Length (P).


As my principal PhD advisor, Howard Pattee, taught me, "The MAP is NOT the TERRITORY". That sage statement means that no model is exactly the same as the thing being modeled (else it would be the real thing.)

We make models because the real thing is too complex and difficult for us to visualize, or -like the Global Climate- is not readily available for us to experiment upon.

Many a General (or football coach) has moved symbols around on a map of the field of battle, convincing himself and his staff of inevitable victory, only to find his opponent also had a model, perhaps a better one plus superior forces to carry it to victory. 

We generally model only the most important or critical parts of the situation or complex system we are trying to visualize. We consider the model to have been successful if the results match actuality to some level of fidelity, at least for those significant portions. If subsequent testing reveals that the model does not comport with reality, we must improve or discard it.


This is the first of what I believe will turn into a series detailing my VISUALIZATION of Einstein's Relativity. Please stay tuned!

Ira Glickstein

Monday, May 18, 2015

Law, Jurisprudence, and Revolution in Islam

[From Mark Welton, based on his excellent presentation to The Villages Philosophy Club, Florida, 08 May 2015, Powerpoint available HERE. Photo above, Jameh Mosque, Yadz, Iran]

Often heard today is that the Quran contains many verses authorizing, or justifying, violence, and therefore Islam is an inherently violent religion.  This is both simplistic and wrong.

First, a hypothetical case often used in jurisprudence courses (including my own at West Point).  President Reagan said that the one law everyone needs to follow is the Ten Commandments (he did say this).  One declares “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  Mr. Jones, a businessman, offered $10,000 to any of his married employees who obeyed this law for at least ten years.  After ten years, three couples came to Mr. Jones to claim their reward.

The first couple told Mr. Jones that the wife had never had relations with any other man after marriage, but the husband had had numerous affairs.  Nevertheless, the husband stated that when this commandment was given to Moses, Talmudic law (indeed all law throughout the Near East) held that adultery could only be committed by wives.  Married men could have as many partners as they desired without committing adultery [this is in fact correct].  Thus this commandment should be interpreted as it was understood by everyone at the time it was revealed, and the couple should receive the money since no adultery had been committed.

Should they?  (hint:  US Supreme Court Justice Scalia might say yes; laws are to be interpreted as they were understood when issued, and if people don’t like the results, the laws should be changed through democratic means, not by judicial interpretation.  But Justice Breyer would probably say no, laws are to be interpreted as they are understood by contemporary society).

The second couple told Mr. Jones that they both had many affairs after their marriage, but it was an open marriage, there was no deceit, and they loved each other and their children as much now as when they got married.  Since the purpose of the law against adultery is to preserve and strengthen the family, this purpose was met, and they should receive the money.

Should they?  (hint:  some judges today do not convict people for shoplifting if they exit a store without paying if they can demonstrate that they honestly forgot that they had the item, since the purpose of the law is to deter intentional theft, not punish innocent carelessness).

The final couple told Mr. Jones that neither of them had had any partners other than their spouses since they married.  The husband admitted, however, that he had occasionally looked at other women and felt desire, though he had never acted on that feeling.

Should they receive the money?  (hint:  the Gospel of Matthew, Pope John Paul, and Jimmy Carter have all stated that anyone who looks with lust on another person has committed adultery in their heart).

Regardless of your own opinion in these cases,  it should be evident that no law, however “clear,” has only one single possible interpretation or “plain meaning.”  Laws, like religious texts, need authorities to interpret and apply them in various situations (e.g., judges and Supreme Court Justices for U.S .law and the Constitution, the Pope for Roman Catholic doctrine, and rabbis for Talmudic law).  These authorities apply many different methodologies to interpret texts.  They also often change their interpretations over time, and they often disagree among themselves.  The process of interpreting texts (exegesis, or more broadly hermeneutics) is complex and always evolving, but never simple.

This is no different when interpreting the Quran.  The difficulty in Islam (more so for Sunnis than for Shiites) is that there is no single person or group like a Pope or a Supreme Court with authority to say what the current best interpretation of a passage in the Quran or other text should be.  Thus some “cherry pick” verses; that is, they pluck them out of the text and apply their own interpretations to justify their personal or political aims, disregarding the entire corpus of hermeneutics that has developed around them (this is called proof texting).

However, the majority of Muslims, both scholars and others, seek a more authentic contextual interpretation of the Quran and other texts so as to make them meaningful to their lives.
For example, the so-called “sword verse” (“so when the sacred months have passed away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them”) is sometimes cited to demonstrate that the Quran advocates violence.  But according to virtually all scholarly accounts, this verse was revealed late in the Prophet’s life when the small community of Muslims at Medina was under attack by the Meccans (who worshipped the many idols in the Kaaba, and were hence “idolaters”).  In the view of many who apply historical context and various other interpretive methods to this passage, when that threat ended with the surrender of the Meccans and other polytheists in the region, the non-historically constrained principles of the Quran that command respect for the other monotheistic faiths, and the exhortation that peace is better than fighting except in self-defense, take precedence over this historically conditioned verse.

This is just one illustration of the obvious point that passages extracted from the foundational texts of any legal system or religion can never be understood as having a single “plain meaning.”  Grammar, semantics, pragmatics, historicity, and other linguistic and related considerations and approaches are all necessary in interpreting the Quran, or for that matter any other foundational text.  The Quran and other textual sources of Islam have undergone centuries of study and interpretation by scholars (ulama) who sometimes, like the US Supreme Court, disagree among themselves, and who have evolved different understandings over time about the meaning of a given text.*  It was this process that created the religious/legal foundation of Muslim societies until relatively recently.

That foundation has now ruptured, with conflict, violence and extremism in some parts of the Islamic world, with many historical, social, political, and economic causes.  But to assert that Islam is an inherently violent religion because the Quran or the Sunnah clearly (or “plainly”) state such and such about fighting and violence (or any other matter) is inaccurate.

*To extract from the Quran and other texts principles and rules of Islam and Islamic law, scholars have traditionally applied numerous interpretive techniques, including al-dalalat (textual implications), naskh (abrogation), ijma (consensus), qiyas (analogical reasoning), istihsan (equity), istishab (presumption of continuity), sadd al-dhara’i (blocking the means), maslahaha (public interest), and many others.  There is nothing simple or obvious about this process.

If Islam is not intrinsically violent (see above discussion on interpreting the Quran), why is there now so much conflict in the Middle East (and in some other Islamic areas and communities)?  Obviously there is no single answer, as history, politics, economics, and religion all play a role.  But an important factor, a broader context in which these events are unfolding, is the current Islamic revolution.

In his two volume “Law and Revolution,” Harold Berman described the modern West as the product of six great revolutions: the Papal Revolution (1075-1122), the German Revolution(1517-1555) (also called the Reformation), the English Revolution (1640-1685), the French and American Revolutions of the late 18th century, and the (only partly successful) Russian Revolution of the early 20th century.  These were true revolutions in that each ultimately affected every aspect of society (economically, politically, legally, religiously, and culturally).  Like the process of scientific revolutions described by Thomas Kuhn in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” they erupted when existing societies could no longer assimilate or constrain new economic, political, legal, religious and cultural ideas and forces.  They were total revolutions as they created new forms of government, new structures of economic, social, legal and state-church relations, new perspectives on history and new sets of values and beliefs.  Importantly for this discussion, each revolution was marked by violence and war; each sought legitimacy in a remote past; each took more than one generation to take root; and each eventually reverted in part to its pre-revolutionary past but also evolved in new ways thereafter.  The modern West is a product of these revolutions.

The Muslim world has undergone two such revolutions.  The first was in the 7th century ce, when the Prophet Muhammad turned the Arab world upside down.  Islam required equality instead of privilege, community instead of tribalism, monotheism instead of polytheism, law instead of private vengeance.  Like the western revolutions, this period was marked by war and violence (during the Prophet’s lifetime and in the subsequent Riddah wars), grounded itself on continuity with the past monotheistic prophetic tradition of the Near East (Judaism and Christianity), took several generations (roughly three centuries) to take root, and reverted in part to pre-Islamic patterns of tribalism, kingship, privilege and local customs, all of which were nevertheless transformed thereafter by the revolutionary ideas of Islam.

Most important, the religious/legal scholars (ulama), not the rulers, gained control of the formulation and interpretation of Islamic law, which to a remarkable degree (for the times) protected the people against the excesses of kings, sultans, and other rulers, and forced those rulers, whose task was to enforce rather than create the core religious law, to abide by that law and to restrain their arbitrary power (or they would lose legitimacy and thus the source of their power).  The “golden age” of Islam in science, literature, arts and commerce was made possible in large part by this basic “rule of law.”  

In the 19th and 20th centuries this system collapsed.  (Why the Muslim world, unlike the West, did not experience other revolutions after the era of the Prophet has many reasons; see Bernard Lewis’ “What Went Wrong” and Timur Kuran’s “The Long Divergence” for some of these reasons).  Beginning around 1800, nearly all of the Islamic world was colonized by European powers, especially by the British, French, and Dutch.  The Islamic law and its morality was almost completely replaced by western law and colonial government, partly because European colonialists desired a political and legal system more favorable to their economic and imperial interests, and partly because many Muslim reformers believed that European law was necessary for modernization.  The authority of the ulama and Islamic law disappeared, save in a few areas such as family matters, and was replaced by western legal codes and procedures, with rulers chosen or approved by the colonial powers.

The era of overt colonialism ended in the 20th century, especially after World War II.  As the Europeans left, the void was filled by various political movements: national socialists (e.g., Nasser in Egypt, the Ba’athists in Iraq and Syria), modernists (e.g., Ataturk in Turkey and Reza Shah in Iran), and others.  These were authoritarian and dictatorial, but unlike the classical era (and even under the Ottomans) there was no longer the ulama with their religious/legal authority to restrain them.  The rulers themselves now “owned” the law, had almost absolute power, but with some exceptions failed to deliver the kinds of societies most people expected.

The collapse of the old order, the effects of colonialism, the failures of political leadership, and the imposition of modernity on traditional societies led to societal pressures and fissures that, like each of the western revolutions, finally erupted in the second Islamic Revolution, beginning in 1979 in Iran and continuing throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa today.  Like the western revolutions (especially the German one, leading many commentators like Robin Wright and Reza Aslan to term the current revolution an “Islamic Reformation”), it is accompanied by violence, and a search by some for a return to the remote founding era of the Prophet (e.g., by the Salafists), or at least by many others to the “traditional” mores and values of Islam (e.g., in dress and religious observance).

Like the German and English Revolutions, when translations and dissemination of the Bible broke the exclusive power of the Church to interpret and proclaim its meaning, translations of the Quran and other Islamic texts from the old Arabic which few could read (especially the vast majority of Muslims who are not Arabs) into modern languages, and their spread through modern media like the internet and TV, have enabled everyone to read, interpret, and sometimes proclaim their own views of those texts.  New figures have emerged to engage ordinary Muslims with their faith in the modern world (such as popular Muslim “televangelists” like Moez Masoud and Amr Khaled), or to claim leadership of the revolution, ranging from modernists like the Gülen movement to radical “puritans” like Osama bin Laden.

History does not repeat itself, nor is it a predictor of future events or outcomes.  But like the great western revolutions it is likely that the current Islamic revolution, already characterized by violence and a reference to its remote past, will take more than one generation to play out and take root, and will absorb existing traditions and patterns, but will imprint those traditions and patterns with revolutionary ideas.  The results will take different forms in different places, but the process will transform the Islamic world in every respect.

Dr. Mark David Welton
Professor Emeritus

United States Military Academy, West Point
Aside from the books and authors mentioned above, all of whom are well worth reading, an excellent and relatively short book on this subject is Noah Feldman’s “The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State.”